Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry SkiesESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Wireless DS Multi-Card Play: 2-4
The first Dragon Quest game I ever played was for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and I thought it was one of the most horrible games out there. There was too much reading, the monsters were too hard and I didn't get the bulk of the humour. Of course, at the time I was 10 years old and I wasn't all that interested in reading; I much preferred racing cars and blowing stuff up. Over the years I have seen each of the new Dragon Quests improve and I have grown a great appreciation for the series.
Akira Toriyama reprised his role as the character and monster designer for Dragon Quest IX (DQ9) and his art style is prominent throughout the game. Fans of Dragon Quest will know that Toriyama has worked on the Dragon Quest series since the beginning and other people may know him more for the popular Dragon Ball animations. With such an acclaimed artist working with Dragon Quest IX the graphics are an artistic inspiration and are quite the pleasure to view.
The characters shine with a custom builder where you can choose your hair style, eye formation and body size, along with hair and eye colour. The character builder is far from robust, but combined with the variety of clothing, armour and weapons available in the game, you will be able to create your own unique look for your characters.
The monsters are quite diverse throughout DQ9, with simple Slime monsters or the burlap sack shaped Sacksquatch along with the feline Meowgicians, or the winged snake Flythons. As you can tell a lot of the creatures have crafty naming conventions, often taking real words and throwing in a spin with something related to the monster, often leading to how the monster looks.
Rounding out the graphical display is the countryside, villages, towns and cities that reside in the lands of the Starry Skies. Walking through the countryside you will notice that many mountains, trees, water basins, rivers and oceans have been used to create a wonderful world with rich detail. Within this world are many villages, towns and cities with the same rich detail as the rest of the world; each village has its own unique design.
The sound of DQ9 is split into sound effects and music; unfortunately there is no voice acting present in this game, which I felt could have added a new element to the series. The sound effects throughout the game create a diverse and rich experience. These include the many attack sounds from weapons, such as swords, staves or magical attacks. We can’t forget the sound on the receiving end, such as when you receive a hit or even when a monster is defeated. Each moment receives its own unique sound effect, which adds to the well rounded sound effects throughout the game.
Music, as is typical with this genre of game, is instrumental. A change within the music often differentiates the type of area you are in. Entering a city you are usually greeted with cheery, fast paced music that welcomes you. Dark, dank caves will give you the opposite feeling, with slower more monotone music that gives the impression of possible or impending death. During battles with creatures, the music will increase in tempo with a different variation of the fast tempo for boss monsters. Overall, the great variety of music matched up with the right situation creating a great musical experience.
Dragon Quest IX plays like a traditional turn based RPG with the user deciding what actions his/her heroes perform, with the monsters returning the same deadly attacks and spells at the heroes. Turn based combat keeps on bringing gamers back time and time again and I am definitely one of those gamers that enjoy the adventure of taking my heroes, or in some cases anti-heroes, into battle and fulfilling the story set before them.
The story of DQ9 follows the story of a Celestrian by the name of Caine (you get to choose your own name at creation) who is charged with protecting the mortals of a village called Angel Falls. As a Celestrian you cannot be seen by those you protect, providing you the anonymity needed to protect them freely and to create faith for the Celestrians. Being just an apprentice, you have a Master, who from time to time checks on you where both of you eventually head to your Celestrian home above the clouds.
During one of these visits to the Celestrian home lights strike down from the heavens shaking the Celestrian home; as a result you are hurtled towards the surface where the disaster has struck as well, with great earthquakes and storms. Several days later you awaken in mortal form in Angel Falls and set out to discover what has happened and to protect the people of your home. This is only the beginning of your journey, and I won't spoil the rest of the great story for you. Let me say this though: the story is worth the time and effort you put into the game.
Overall the gameplay is not that complicated and is very easy to pick up and go, especially if you are a veteran of the RPG genre. Typically you go from city to city, and by communicating with the citizens you find out who needs help, and of course as a hero, you rush off to the rescue. Along the way you will encounter monsters, villains and other scum that you have to fight in order to level your heroes. Levelling your heroes increases your overall stats but you also earn points you can put towards learning new skills depending on your job. Jobs vary from warrior, thief, wizard and priest; you will be able to unlock even more jobs through quests later on in the game. During all of this you will have to go off to shops to acquire new weapons, armour and supplies to complete all of your missions and quests. If this isn't enough to keep you busy there is plenty more you can do throughout the game to add even more value to this title.
One of the great elements of the game is the ability to gather ingredients as you adventure to create items to use through alchemy. Exploring bookshelves throughout the realms will often give you new recipes on how to make new items such as potions, weapons and armour. If you're not a recipe type of person and want to experiment with your ingredients, by all means you can do that. Just take your ingredients to the Krak Pot at The Quester's Rest in Stornway and you can use alchemy to your heart’s content.
Along with being able to create your items you are also able to access the DQVC shopping service via your home internet connection and Nintendo Wi-Fi where you can purchase items that you can't find anywhere else. Not only can you purchase these special items you can access new quests for your heroes to complete as they become available.
DQ9 is full of Wi-Fi features with multiplayer mode where you can join a game, or host a game for you and up to three of your friends to play through the game. Depending on how many of your friends are playing you will have to free up some space in your group to allow them to join your party. Another Wi-Fi option is where you “Canvass for Guests” using your DS and Tag Mode to recruit other heroes to Quester's Rest where they will reside in the Inn. To activate this speak to Erinn in Quester's Rest and activate Tag Mode and when you near other DS systems in Tag Mode you will gain new guests that will stay at your Inn. The great thing about this is you’re able to entice guests with Treasure Maps, and in return you can get Treasure Maps the same way.
Finally there are quite a few quests you can perform by accepting tasks from people throughout the realms that have blue speech icons above their heads. These quests can be as simple as item retrieval, killing a certain monster in the area or performing certain abilities in battle. Often you will be rewarded with items, or gold, but there are special quests that will aid you in earning new jobs that you can switch to if you choose.
Other quests include finding Mini Medals scattered all over the world; you can exchange them to Cap'n Max Meddlin for some really great items such as a skeleton key that will help you open just about any locked chest. Just keep an eye out for a huge circus like tent during your travels and you will know where to see the Cap'n. As I mentioned before you can acquire Treasure Maps through Tag Mode, but you can also get these Treasure Maps through regular play. When you acquire a map you can access it through your Items menu and you will see the traditional X marking the spot. Make your way to the X and you will be able to uncover an entrance to a grotto where you will have to fight a boss monster at the bottom to earn your treasure.
Dragon Quest IX has a wonderful story to guide your heroes through, with plenty of side-quests and online components to keep you busy for awhile. The creators kept to the traditional format of the game while integrating some great innovations that are enjoyable, keeping you captivated for hours.
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